In celebration of the 30th anniversary of the first book, I created an e-commerce website in order to meet the promotional needs of the series of books, Tushita Publications. Included cover redesigns, web design, and augmented reality.
A Geshe degree is the Tibetan equivalent of a PhD, and Acharya the Indian (Sanskrit) equivalent of a Masters degree. Geshe Acharya Thubten Loden was a Buddhist monk and scholar, who wrote a series of nine books which address the essential points of Tibetan Buddhist philosophy and practice.
This treasury of books are known as the Tushita Publications, which were printed between 1993 and 2009. Four of the nine books are on introductory topics, and the remaining five are specialist teachings on Tibetan Buddhism.
Geshe Loden was also the founder of the organisation, Tibetan Buddhist Society (TBS). There are TBS centres in Melbourne, Perth, and Sydney. Melbourne was the centre where he resided and taught mahayana dharma to students. As such, the books were printed by the Melbourne centre, and ultimately Melbourne have ownership over the publications, despite the other centres similarly selling the series of books.
Tools / Methods
WordPress, WooCommerce, Adobe Illustrator, Adobe After Effects, Adobe Aero, Adobe Photoshop
User research and personas, wireframes, mockups
UX designer, motion designer, communication designer
March to July 2022
Given that Tibetan Buddhist Society Melbourne has ownership of the Tushita Publications, the books are only available within their website. The issue here, I believe, is that people are searching for the books, not the centre, and would not think to look in the Melbourne Society’s site. An example of a competitor site is Wisdom Publications: while under the branch of FPMT (Foundation for the Preservation of the Mahayana Tradition, a Buddhist organisation based in the United States), they are not located within FPMT’s site, as they are an international company.
For this reason, the books are not promoted internationally to the extent that they could and should be. Further, data analytics reports have shown that the books do not appear within the top 100 searches for “Buddhist books” online. As the Tushita Publications are authoratative, scholarly and clear, and Geshe Loden was highly respected in traditional Tibetan Buddhist circles, this is troubling information.
For the Tushita Publications books to continue being promoted within Tibetan Buddhist Society Melbourne’s website, the potential international audience of people searching for dharma books will not be met. For this reason, I propose creating a Tushita Publications standalone site.
Considering the niche for books on Tibetan Buddhism, it is important to focus on metadata – for the benefit of the search engine, as well as prospective dharma students. I would like to emphasise how useful the books may be to those that need them at a particular point in their life, whether it be mental health difficulties or if they are “searching” for something. Once they have found the site, it must be easy to navigate, with simple steps to add purchases to their cart.
To celebrate the upcoming 30th anniversary of the first book, Path to Enlightenment in Tibetan Buddhism, I intend to include other methods of engagement to inspire delight for all age ranges. These would include augmented reality (AR) when scanning a QR code, perhaps of the book covers coming to life. The current covers will similarly be redesigned to fit with the modernised site and available as a “special anniversary edition”. The current book covers will still be available to purchase should customers wish.
I asked four participants who have read Geshe Loden’s books what they would like to see on the website, and then asked them to test other online Buddhist bookstores. Their most important responses are outlined below.
What they wanted to see
- Discounts when buying in bulk (e.g. buy hardcopy, get eBook free)
- Practical queries about the books’ purchases (i.e. a FAQ page)
- Brief explanations about each book and author bio
- A possible timeline about the author (why his books are worth purchasing)
- Emphasis on there only being nine books, easy to navigate
- A possible ‘Coming Soon’ section to showcase eBooks and audiobooks
- Mobile-first design, as most of their purchases are made on mobile
- Security when buying online (i.e. SSL certification)
- Testimonials and puff quotes, including those from His Holiness Dalai Lama XIV
- Free shipping over a certain price to incentivise mass purchases
- Expect a search function, for individual books and their classifications
- An option to purchase the books’ original and modern cover
What they thought of competitor sites
- Content was too wordy (including dropdowns with too much data)
- Liked simple icons (interface metaphors)
- Too much whitespace
- Disliked subscription pop-ups (deterred from buying product)
- Too much content led participants to feel overwhelmed
- Liked simple design of navigation bar
- Liked option to read sample chapter
- Disliked automated carousels (would prefer indicators)
- Enticed by free product (sample chapter/short eBook/free shipping)
- Interested in horizontal scroll function, compared it with Netflix browsing
- Liked a shorter landing page
I then created a user persona for the primary audience: younger people with an interest in mindfulness and meditation who know want to learn more about Tibetan Buddhism. The secondary audience, older people with some prior knowledge, is outlined below in ‘Audience’.
The audience for users of this site is primarily 15-30 year olds who have an interest in Tibetan Buddhist philosophy, as well as older students and practitioners who already have a foundation in Buddhism.
To appeal to the younger demographic, I believe that a modern site design is necessary. Their experience on the website should be intuitive, as online purchases are the norm. The proposed redesign of the Tushita Publications book covers should complement this modern aesthetic and catch the users’ eye.
For the older students I will emphasise usability and simplicity. If they already have some prior knowledge about the publications, they will likely just be searching for the books. As such, the books will be displayed prominently on the homepage with a search feature in the navigation bar.
For both audiences, I hope they will find amusement in scanning a QR code for augmented reality (AR) integration. The new covers will come to life when the mobile device is held above them.
For the Tushita Publications homepage I sought to experiment with the effectiveness of a central- versus left-aligned layout, feeling that a traditional horizontal navigation bar would be most useful for the range of ages that will visit the site. As accessibility is a key factor in its design, I wanted to build upon the foundations of web design conventions.
I experimented with including features such as carousels, either above the fold or for testimonials; interface metaphors and iconography which carried across from the book cover redesigns; a biography about Geshe Loden, the author; and a “Sort/Filter By” function to easily distinguish between beginner and advanced books.
I wanted to contrast a soothing colour palette, which evokes peacefulness and balance, with a touch of modernity, to bring the dharma to a digital age.
The spectrum of colours below was to unify the book covers and provide clarity. The spines were to align, with a unique icon and formatted text.
This was an early low fidelity mockup of the Tushita Publications homepage. Though tweaks were made throughout, a few interface metaphors remained. These included: the search bar above navigation, the shopping cart on the right-hand side, immediate call-to-action (CTA) above the fold, the option to browse by topic and cards in a 3×3 grid, prominent pull quote and testimonials from key people in Tibetan Buddhism, the purchase of gift sets, and a section about Geshe Loden.
The initial mockup of Tushita Publications homepage. Pictured is a single-page scroll broken up into two sections, created on Adobe XD.
First cover redesigns
This was the first iteration of new book cover designs. They did not hold the necessary readability or consistency necessary. The final covers are pictured below.
Tushita Publications website
From the initial designs, usability and readability were often highlighted as potential concerns, so the greatest changes that did occur included: providing enough contrast in text and background colour, size and prominence of buttons or type – in order to convey hierarchy, illogical or unfamiliar navigation – people expect a convention in visiting each site.
Tushita Publications includes a total of 25 pages.
13 pages relate to the products (books and gift sets), the remaining provide details about the author and books, as well as privacy and returns policies and FAQs.
Redesigned book covers
It was important that the overall website design complemented the design of the book covers. For this reason, they were created in tandem with many adjustments occurring throughout the process.
Accessibility was a key factor in their design. This included contrast of colour and text, as well as a cohesive set of illustrations that would convey that the publications are a series.
The final covers are displayed on the Home, Shop (Books), and individual books’ pages of the site.
Augmented reality (AR) implementation
For the element of augmented reality that I wished to include, I animated the book cover illustrations. This meant using Adobe software: Illustrator, After Effects, and Aero.
I animated the individual layers of these designs in After Effects, such as the flames rising along the wisdom sword, flower blooming, and hair gently blowing in the wind. These were exported as GIFs and anchored to the book cover images to play when scanned.
Below are final designs of each GIF. They had changed from solid 16:9 colour block behind the deity, to complete transparency, and finally the inclusion of a circle to give the impression of three-dimensionality.
I was pleased with the final outcome of this project. While there were many minor difficulties I experienced, these were able to be resolved.
Once such experience was using WooCommerce integration as a WordPress plugin, as customising the design of the cart and checkout was not always within my control (for user security). Of course, this was due to my being unfamiliar with the software. With greater time spent using these plug-ins I feel they will be most useful for the sales of the Tushita Publications.
A similar difficulty was the use of Adobe Aero, another application I had not used prior. I eventually had to compromise by including animations with a reduced frame rate, but this adds a retro feel and plays into the augmented reality that I was going for.
I still intend to present the website to the Board of Directors at the Tibetan Buddhist Society Melbourne centre. I will propose that they may edit any of the written elements to better reflect the brand, if they do decide to launch the site officially. As a business proposition, and with the possibilities that could eventuate, I will stand firm in my beliefs.
Copyright Tara Sleeman 2022